Mind Games

Mind Games

I pay a lot of money to go and watch them, so if they don’t perform, they’re going to get some stick.”  That’s probably an attitude most of us have taken to a sporting event, especially when our favourites aren’t giving what the commentators like to call “one hundred and ten percent”.  It doesn’t just happen to the sporting elite, move down the leagues and there will always be players, or entire teams considered fair game for abuse.  It wouldn’t happen in any other place of employment: if the assistant at B&Q is a bit slow finding the Rothenberger Backnut Spanner they’re not usually treated to a chorus of “you’re not fit to wear the shirt”.

 

The passion aroused by sport means that very little thought is spared to understanding why a player might be performing at less than the mythical 110%.  A revealing blog by David Weatherston (http://bit.ly/anxietyblogWJ) illustrates how footballers are not immune from mental health problems but suffer in exactly the same way as anyone doing a “normal” job.

 

The problem for a footballer is that the physical effects of stress and anxiety which he describes so well – anxiety, nausea, breathlessness, heavy legs, lack of energy – have a critical effect on his job.  These effects are often dismissed unsympathetically by coaches and fans alike as a lack of fitness or passion.

Good employers now acknowledge that stress causes anxiety and depression, recognising that ultimately the company suffers too.  Football clubs should be no different.  Clarke Carlisle and Chris Kirkland have bravely highlighted the issue and teams at the higher levels are doing more for players’ mental welfare, but David Weatherston, who played his whole career in the Scottish Divisions, demonstrates that mental illness can afflict those regularly playing in front of very small, as well as very large crowds, and who don’t fit the unflattering tabloid image of “pampered” superstars.  It might be worth bearing in mind next time we’re bawling at our players that they’re “not trying”.